Editorial | 4/27/2010 at 8:55 AM

One for All and All for Me: An Achievement Journey

My name is Samoza and I am an Achievement Addict.  Microsoft’s introduction of the Achievement system has been one of the greatest, and worst, innovations of this generation.  This Meta game has meant that I can play any 360 game safe in the knowledge that it will improve my overall score regardless of any critical reception that it may (or may not) receive on release.  It does not matter that the Achievement score is meaningless; just its very existence draws me to it.  I have always felt that deep down inside all of us is a little statistician who would like to get out.  For some, this mathematical goblin is louder than others.  Mine is a more of a troll, as the idea of gaining statistical information across every game I play makes me drool.  I love the sound of an achievement unlocking and I visit sites like Truaechievements to see what my True Achievement score is.  I am now at the point of regularly reading what Achievements are available in the game before it is even released on sites like Xbox360achievements so that I can have an Achievement strategy ready for when I play the game.

Achievements can become a bit of an obsession, but on a positive note some developers have used the system to improve their games by encouraging gamers to try different tactics, or approach situations differently e.g. in Crackdown you were encouraged to use a globe to squash your foes, an idea I would not have considered had the Achievement not existed.  However, for every good use of Achievements, there is another developer who has designed simple goals, just so that certain people will buy their game e.g. CSI: Hard Evidence, or the Press Start Achievement in The Simpsons Game.  As someone who is about to own their genuine 300th 360 game, and is close to 100 000 achievement points, I have played my fair share of lesser titles, though perhaps less than the chap aiming to be the first to a million achievement points

When playing solo-games the urge to gain achievements is a personal vice that affects no one but myself.  However, when you introduce ‘G Hunting’ into the co-op environment it can become a factor that can drive a friendship apart, or together.  As with solo games the best developers can improve the co-op gaming experience through use of Achievements to enhance and encourage co-op play.  The simplest form is the ‘complete the game/level in co-op’ Achievements.  This is a simple reward for finishing the game with one or more players e.g. Saint’s Row 2, Gears of War 2.  The important thing with these Achievements is that both players must receive the reward for playing the game.  If made correctly they can encourage some people to stick with a co-op game they may have otherwise quit.  Fairytale Fights and Damnation are about as much fun as having to watch Opera with your mother-in-law, but my co-op pal and I said we may as well complete them as we are both rewarded for doing so.

Some of my favorite True Achievements, including many co-op successes

Introducing the concept of bribing a player to complete a co-op game with co-op game completion Achievements is a little depressing and in some ways underhand.  Something like Left 4 Dead is a good enough game to play in co-op without forcing specific Achievements to complete the game in a team.  Left 4 Dead instead uses Achievements to encourage co-op play by rewarding those who help their friends by healing them etc.  If more games started to bribe players into playing co-op it would create a problem with games like Lord of the Rings: Conquest, which only had a single co-op Achievement that you gained after completing one level together, after that you unlocked nothing.  Some Achievement addicts would play the perhaps only play the first level in co-op and then move onto another game.   As co-op gamers we would never dream of ignoring a title just because it was achievement free, but many people would.  A simple 10G co-op bonus on completing the game may have made the co-op mode more popular and the servers busier...

LOTR: Conquest highlights an inherent problem with online achievements, be they in co-op or competitive games.  If someone does not have online capabilities, or the servers are shut down, they can never get the full 1000Gs.  Eventually all 360 servers will be shut down as the Xbox before it.  Without the likes of system link capabilities being added to co-op games, some titles will become unplayable in the future; an issue that some of our own Co-Optimus members are acutely aware of.  

There is a situation that can put co-op Achievement hunters directly at odds.  Sensible developers like Epic learnt in their Gears of War titles that both co-op partners should receive achievements for working together.  Whilst Gears of War made Dom a popular choice by dishing out extra Achievements, the second game gave both players the same level of co-op success.  However, this is surprisingly not true of many online and offline co-op titles.  Mercenaries 2, Lego Batman, Spiderman: Friend or Foe, G.I. Joe and Fable 2, amongst others, are all games that only rewarded the host when progressing in the game.  The other player would either walk away empty handed or have to complete the tasks within each gaming session e.g. kill 500 enemies.  This is all to do with who controls the save file, but is it necessary? 

The save issue has the largest impact in games that allow drop in/drop out gameplay.  This type of game has a persistent world, so if another player was to jump in, their character’s statistics would impact everything in the world.  Programming for every drop in/drop out eventuality is incredibly time consuming and a burden that many developers are not willing to make as seen with the upcoming Dead Rising 2Borderlands is a game that seamlessly allowed players to join someone online and keep the gameplay flowing for every member of the squad.  The issue is not always one where the host comes out on top as Gears of War showed.  One memorable experience I had was in 50 Cent: Blood in the Sand.  There were extra achievements for the second player who controlled a member of the ‘G Unit’; never has the battle to not be Fiddy been more intense.


You be Fiddy. No, You be Fiddy


What is the solution to stop this war between co-op gamers who are also Achievement lovers?  Luckily, as a group, co-op players like to work together.  In the past this has meant the sharing of loot, or even sacrificing a character for the greater good of the group.  A compromise must be sought.  My regular online pal and I take it in turns to receive the extra Gs in a given game.  Another solution would be to play a game twice with each player taking a turn to host.  This is fine with a fun game that is not too long, or opens up a new difficulty level to tackle like the first Gears, but if you think I am going through Sacred 2 again you have another thing coming.  The fact that this game did not save any quest information for the second, third or fourth player became increasingly irritating the more hours you put into it.

Of course, the best solution of all is to not worry about the Achievements.  Co-op gaming is about the fun of the shared experience; not the grind of working for Gs.  Don’t invite me to a private game of Left 4 Dead 2 if all you plan to do is spend 2 hours on the easiest setting killing every Zombie in an attempt to unlock a t shirt; it is boring and not how the game is meant to be played.  However, do invite me to play campaign, team versus etc.  We can have a great time, and if we are lucky we may unlock a few Gs and some fetching apparel. 

Play for the game, not for the Gs.

*I’m now off to play Madagascar 2: Escape to Africa for the Achievements*